The spread of Covid-19 has had debilitating effects on our society prompting the government to take drastic action, from school closures to a complete governmental lockdown, in order to ensure that the NHS does not become overwhelmed; however, in the midst of all the chaos, a very important question emerges. Will this pandemic be the catalyst needed for digital health care to take a more central role in how health care is delivered across the NHS? Looking back to when the spread of the virus began, Ping An Good Doctor, a healthcare services platform in China, saw a 900% increase in new users from December 2019 to January 2020 with many other similar platforms also seeing significant rises in numbers. If we bring these numbers closer to home, Now Healthcare, a Manchester-based biotech start- up and creator of the Now Patient mobile application, has seen a 500% increase in the usage of the Now Patient app since the start of the pandemic in the United Kingdom. Now Patient offers an NHS- approved online pharmacy and according to founder Lee Dentith the 500% increase in usage is due to “new and returning patients – mainly over the ages of 60 – who need regular medication and want an easier solution which saves time and ultimately their healthcare, rather than queuing up in a pharmacy that’s potentially full of germs.”
Another huge facet of digital health care that the NHS is quickly taking on is online video consultations with GPs. In late March, the NHS issued a 48-hour tender for the urgent provision of online primary care consultation. Of the 33 trusted suppliers that were sent the tender, 11 were successfully chosen to work with the NHS to supply the platforms and software required to roll out online video consultations on such a large scale. When all is said and done, healthcare providers can now consult patients online, they can prescribe medication online, and they can refer to one another online, however, they cannot hold a patient’s hand online, they cannot help curb the loneliness of isolation. That is where NHSX is trying to step in. NHSX has announced £500,000 in funding to start-ups that can be scaled within weeks to help those self-isolating. NHSX chief executive Mathew Gould explained that “this competition is focussed on the problems created by isolation, which lend themselves to digital solutions. It will allow NHSX to accelerate the development of those solutions, so within weeks they can help those in isolation suffering from loneliness, mental health issues and other problems.”
Ultimately, within the pandemonium that the COVID- 19 pandemic has created, we see an opportunity to better our health care systems emerge, a chance to fundamentally alter how patients and doctors interact to create a more efficient and cohesive NHS. The changes that are being implemented now, can help us in the long-term by integrating more digital solutions into the NHS thereby allowing vital resources, both human and otherwise, to be allocated more cost-effectively to have the greatest impact.